The Great Movies: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

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The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Michael Curtiz, William Keighley

Many thanks to everyone who came out on a rainy Thursday night to watch The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), the latest movie in our Great Movies series at the library.

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Of course we had to start with the 1949 Looney Tunes Bugs Bunny classic “Rabbit Hood,” featuring a special guest appearance by one of the stars of the 1938 film. (No spoilers here!)

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In my introduction to the films in the Great Movies series, I always ask “How many people are seeing tonight’s film for the first time?” I was amazed that nearly half the people in the audience raised their hands. “Well, you’re gonna love this movie,” I said.

Try to put yourself in the mindset of 1938. You’re a movie fan, and unless you saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the previous year, you’ve probably never seen a color movie. (The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind would not appear until the next year.) This Technicolor film was going to knock your socks off.

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Warner Bros. was tired of being known as the guys who make low-budget gangster films. Jack Warner decided to class up the joint by going straight to the source of classiness, William Shakespeare, producing a film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935). Not content to stop there, Warner decided a different classic was in order: the story of Robin Hood. Studio heads thought it would be a great idea to take their greatest gangster star, James Cagney, and put him in the role of Robin Hood. (Seriously.) Cagney was signed for the part, but in one of his many disputes with Warner Bros., the actor walked.

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Jack Warner really didn’t know what to do, but there was this guy named Errol Flynn who’d given a pretty good performance in Captain Blood, a pirate/swashbuckling adventure a few years earlier, so he got the part. (A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers saw a picture Flynn as Robin Hood on my computer screen, which stopped her in her tracks. She stared at the image and said with a soft voice, “What a beautiful man…” And I can tell you, she wasn’t talking about me.)

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The rest is history. Paired here with Olivia de Havilland (they would make nine films together), Errol Flynn is a wonder. How rare is was then – and now – to see the pure joy of performance, an aspect of acting that must be genuine for it to work and Flynn had it. And de Havilland (who is still with us and will, Lord willing, turn 102 this summer) is simply breathtaking. And the cast? Absolutely stellar, especially with not one, not two, but three different villains played by Melville Cooper, Claude Rains, and Basil Rathbone.

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I had much more to say about the film (and could’ve talked all night about the amazing score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold), but the best part of any library movie showing is hearing from the audience, who I’m glad to say, also loved the film. Many pointed out the film’s amazing color, costumes, props, action sequences, crowd sequences, choreography, and much more. I absolutely love the sharing that goes on during these discussions. The love of cinema is both passionate and contagious.

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One thing I did mention to the group: I asked them to bring a friend to the next movie event they attend, and if they can, a teenager. Let’s face it: these films are old and some of us (including me) are getting older all the time. If we don’t pass on the love of classic cinema to younger audiences, these films will be lost. We have to be welcoming, not judgmental; passionate, not condescending. We can do that. I’m convinced of it.

Before I end, I’d like to thank Audy Christianos from Cinema Samurai and the podcast Film Don’t Lie for joining us last night. Audy’s work is excellent and his passion for film limitless. It was a real honor to have him join us. Audy, you’re welcome to visit us anytime!

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Again, if you live in the Anne Arundel County, Maryland area, we’d love to see you at the Severna Park Library every first Thursday (usually) at 6:30pm. If you don’t live nearby, please contact your local library and see if they have a library movie program. If they don’t, ask them to start one. Maybe you could even volunteer. The possibilities are endless as long as you keep the passion alive.

Photos: ScreenMom, Queens of Vintage, DVD Beaver

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6 thoughts on “The Great Movies: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

  1. Pingback: Movies Watched in March 2018 | Journeys in Darkness and Light

  2. Pingback: The Adventures of Robin Hood | Cinema Shame

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